The launch of a brand new series by the internationally bestselling, critically acclaimed author of The Coroner's Lunch
With worldwide critical acclaim, Colin Cotterill is one of the most highly regarded "cult favorite" crime writers today. Now, with this new series, starting with Killed at the Whim of a Hat, Cotterill is poised to break into the mainstream. Set in present day rural Thailand, Cotterill is as sharp and witty, yet more engaging and charming, than ever before.
Jimm Juree was a crime reporter for the Chiang Mai Daily Mail with a somewhat eccentric familya mother who might be drifting mentally; a grandfathera retired copwho rarely talks; a younger brother obsessed with body-building, and a transgendered, former beauty pageant queen, former older brother. When Jimm is forced to follow her family to a rural village on the coast of Southern Thailand, she's convinced her careermaybe her lifeis over. So when a van containing the skeletal remains of two hippies, one of them wearing a hat, is inexplicably unearthed in a local farmer's field, Jimm is thrilled. Shortly thereafter an abbot at a local Buddhist temple is viciously murdered, with the temple's monk and nun the only suspects.
Suddenly Jimm's new life becomes somewhat more promisingand a lot more deadly. And if Jimm is to make the most of this opportunity, and unravel the mysteries that underlie these inexplicable events, it will take luck, perseverance, and the help of her entire family.
One of Library Journal's Best Mystery Books of 2011
About the Author
Born in London, COLIN COTTERILL has worked as teacher in Israel, Australia, the U.S. and Japan before he started training teachers in Thailand. Cotterill and his wife live in a small fishing village on the Gulf of Siam in Southern Thailand. He's won the Dilys and a CWA Dagger, and has been a finalist for several other awards. His Jimm Juree Mysteries include Killed at the Whim of a Hat; Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach and The Axe Factor.
Read an Excerpt
“Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.”
—GEORGE W. BUSH, LACROSSE, WISCONSIN, 18 OCTOBER, 2000
Old Mel hired one of Da’s nephews—the slow-witted one with the dent in his forehead—to sink a well in his back acre. The irrigation trenches his family had dug between the rows of oil palms didn’t extend to the rear fence and the new fronds were browning even before they fanned open. It hadn’t rained for a month. Mel had been lugging watering cans out there for two weeks and his back bones were starting to clack like mah-jong tiles. So, a well, a cheap Chinese pump, half a dozen sprinklers, and all he’d need to do was flick a switch. Oil palms took care of themselves if you watered them often and gave them manure treats once every three months. Twenty palms saved without crippling his spine. Cheap at twice the price.
So, on Saturday last, Old Mel sat on the top rung of the back fence and watched the young man work. The nephew’s skull indentation made Mel wonder if he’d been hit by a metal petanque ball thrown at high speed. Such was the concavity. But he decided it was better not to ask. He knew the response would be long and slobbered. He knew the nephew would stop work to reply because he couldn’t perform two functions simultaneously. So Mel merely sat and watched him dig. He could have chipped in with some labor to make the job easier but Old Mel was a firm believer in not hiring a goat and bleating himself.
The tried-and-tested southern Thai method of sinking a well would undoubtedly not have been acceptable in any Western country where concepts such as “quality” and “safety standards” were firmly in place. Four one-meter concrete pipe segments lay on the ground to one side. The nephew would dig a hole broad and deep enough to insert one of the segments. He would then jump into the hole and continue to burrow downward, scooping out earth from beneath the concrete pipe. The latter would sink into the ground like a very slow elevator. Once its top lip was level with the surface of the field, the second pipe segment would be placed on top of it and the excavation would continue. The earth in Old Mel’s field was a mixture of dirt and sand and once you got below the knotty pissweed, it was not terribly hard to dig. The problems would begin—if you were lucky—when the third section was inserted and the water started to rise, turning the hole into a mudbath spa. Before the fourth segment was level with the ground, the unfortunate young man could be spending half his time submerged in murky brown water.
But on this arid Saturday morning the well would not allow itself to be sunk. At no more than waist depth below the surface, the nephew’s hoe clanged against something solid. A loud metallic gong scattered the wimpy drongos from the trees. Lizards scampered from beneath rocks. The nephew was obviously enchanted by the percussion because he struck three more times before Mel could convince him to cease. The old man climbed down from his perch, hooked his toes into his sandals, and ambled over to the hole. He stopped at the concrete rim and stared down at his laborer’s feet which, against all the odds, stood astride a small island of rust.
“It can’t be much,” Mel said. “Probably a barrel lid. Sink your hoe off to the edges. You can work your way below it and pry it up.”
Easily said. The nephew prodded and poked but every foray produced the same tinny clunk. There was no way around it. For all anyone knew, the obstruction might have extended from the Gulf all the way across to the Andaman Sea and been connected to one of the earth’s plates. All Mel could think about was that this sheet of metal stood defiantly between him and lower-back-pain relief. He wasn’t about to give in without a fight whether it unbalanced the earth or not. He walked to the fence, grabbed a solid black crowbar and held it out to the lad.
“Here, use this,” he said. “Smash your way through it.”
Da’s nephew stared forlornly at the tool. It was obvious some laborious mechanical process was taking place in his mind. The crowbar was getting heavy in Mel’s hand.
“I’m just paid for digging,” said the nephew, at last. “Nobody said nothing about smashing. That’s a job for specialists, smashing is. I’m just a digger.”
“Go on, boy. Look at it. It’s rusted to hell. You could sneeze a hole in it.”
“I don’t know, Old Mel. Wear and tear on the tools. All that added time…”
This was a lesson learned for Mel. A brain dent did not necessarily affect a young man’s ability to extort.
“All right, look. I’m not going to pay you to start a new well somewhere else, so why don’t we just say … what? Fifty baht extra? How’s that?”
There was no further discussion. The nephew began jabbing the crowbar into the metal plate with renewed enthusiasm. With the fifty baht incentive, the young man performed like a large, enthusiastic can opener. He stood at the center of the hole and gouged through the metal around him. Like Mel, he’d probably expected to be able to lift out a perfect circle of rusted metal and continue his dig south uninterrupted. He would have anticipated a firm grounding of earth beneath the metal. He probably didn’t expect in his wildest and most troubling dreams to hear that teeth-grinding creak, or to have the metal upon which he stood drop like a theatrical trapdoor. He seemed to hover in midair for a split second before plummeting into the dark void beneath him.
The silence that followed stretched into the hot early morning like warm noodle dough. Crickets and songbirds held their breaths. A solitary wispy cloud hung overhead. Mel stood leaning forward slightly to look into the hole but all he could see was blackness. He didn’t recall the lad’s name so he couldn’t call it out.
“You all right there?” he said. Then, realizing the newly opened shaft might be vastly deep he shouted the same question. “YOU ALL RIGHT?”
There was no reply.
A number of lands around the globe have what they refer to as a southern temperament. Thailand is no exception. Old Mel could surely have gone running off screaming for help. He might have beaten a pestle against the old tin tub that hung from his balcony or trekked those two kilometers to the nearest payphone. But he was a southerner. He broke off a stem of sweet grass to chew while he sat on the concrete segment and gazed into the abyss. There was a good deal to consider. Perhaps this had been a blessing in disguise. He wondered whether they’d chanced on an old well shaft. Saved themselves time. But there’d been no splash. It was probably dry. Bad luck, that.
“Young fellow?” he called again, half-heartedly.
There was still no response.
Mel wondered just how long was a suitable period of time before he should get anxious. He was in the middle of a plan. Go back to the shed. Get a rope. Tie it to the fence. Lower it into the hole, and … but there was his back problem. That wouldn’t work. He’d have to call his neighbor, Gai, to—
The voice was odd, echoey, like that of a lone sardine in a tin can.
“Old Mel. You there?”
“What are you playing at down there?” Mel asked. “You stuck?”
“No, no. I had the wind knocked out of me, that’s all, but I chanced lucky. I’m on … a bed.”
“That’s what they call concussion, boy. You need a—”
“No. I’m on a bed. Really I am.”
“What makes you think so?”
“I can feel the springs.”
“Plant roots, boy. Easily mistaken for bedsprings.”
Mel realized that in the nephew’s case, concussion wouldn’t have made a lot of difference.
“All right, look, I need to fetch somebody,” he said.
“You know, I can probably get myself out, Old Mel. I’m not so far from the hole. I’m looking up at it.”
“No, but my shirt’s snagged on one of the springs. You should come down and have a look. This is odd, Old Mel. The more my eyes get used to the dark, the odder it is.”
“What can you see, boy?”
Old Mel chuckled. “You’re on a bed and you’ve got windows round you? Sounds to me like you’ve found yourself an underground bedroom. What are the odds of that?”
He was wondering where the nearest psychiatric care unit might be. Whether analysis was included under the government thirty-baht universal health initiative.
“And there’s…” the nephew began.
“A bedside lamp?”
“Oh, no. Old Mel. Old Mel.”
There was a real panicky timbre to his voice.
“What? What is it?”
“There’s skeletons down here.”
Mel was hoping he wouldn’t have to be responsible in some way for the young fellow’s rehabilitation. Whether he’d be obliged to employ him in some menial position in which his affliction wouldn’t be too much of a disadvantage. Scarecrow, perhaps? Maybe he could find a witness who’d swear the boy was already eight points brain-dead before he fell down the old well shaft. You had to be careful these days with so many unemployed lawyers around. Mean buggers, those lawyers.
“They animal bones, boy?” he asked, just to humor the lad.
“No, Old Mel. They’re people all right.”
“How can you tell?”
“One’s wearing a hat.”
* * *
That was as far as I managed to get with the fertile prose version. It takes it out of you, writing with heart. And it was just for me really. Sort of a confirmation to myself that my inner diva can still make love to the keyboard when she’s in the mood. I have to keep her roped and gagged when I’m writing for the newspapers. They don’t like her at all. They don’t want love. They want a quick tryst in a motel room that’s forgotten in a few hours. They want dates and times and figures and facts and stats. They want the names and ages of the victims and the perpetrators, the ranks of every police officer vaguely involved with the case, the verbatim quotes from experts, and the ungrammatical misinformation from eyewitnesses. They don’t care what I think. I’m just that peculiar woman on the crime desk or, at least, I used to be. I’d try to sneak in the odd metaphor from time to time but the Mail would set their editorial medusa on me until my piece looked like a lexicon of criminal terminology and place names. This is what hit the newspaper shops on Sunday morning.
TWO DEAD BODIES IN BURIED VEHICLE
Chumphon province. Two unidentified bodies were found yesterday in a Volkswagen Kombi Type 2 camper van, registration number Or Por 243, from Surat Thani province, buried at the rear of a palm oil plantation in Bang Ka sub-district, Lang Suan district, Chumphon province. Police Major General Suvit Pamaluang of the Lang Suan municipality announced that the bodies were discovered at 0800 hours on the morning of Saturday 23 August by Mr. Mel Phumihan, the owner of the land. So far, the victims have not been identified and there have been no clues found as to how the vehicle became buried there.
At 1000 hours, constable Ma Yai and constable Ma Lek from the Pak Nam sub-regional municipality police station in Lang Suan sub-district were dispatched to Bang Ka following a call logged at 0923 hours. Upon their arrival at Mr. Mel’s palm plantation they were met by Mr. Mel (68 years old) and his day laborer, Mr. Anuphong Wiset (22). The two men had been digging a well and had encountered an unexpected obstacle beneath the ground in the form of a complete 1972 model Volkswagen Camper van popularly known in the West as a Kombi with traces of red and cream trimming. The description of the vehicle was wired to the Surat police station and officers are still attempting to trace any missing vehicles answering this description. Desk Sergeant Monluk Pradibat at the central motor registry in Bangkok informed this newspaper that, “This vehicle will be particularly difficult to trace as computer records of missing vehicles date back only as far as 1994. Any records before that would be filed on paper forms at our central warehouse.”
As to the identity of the bodies, Police Major Mana Sachawacharapong, the head of the Pak Nam police station, in whose jurisdiction the discovery was made, told our reporter, “The identities of the dead bodies and the causes of death are still being investigated. But I can tell you that this was either an accident, murder or an act of nature.” The captain was not, however, prepared to rule out suicide.
They always did that, Thai police. Cover all the bases. Shot four times in the face over a period of twenty minutes? Don’t rule out suicide. They’d recently found a head in a plastic bag suspended on a rope from a bridge in Bangkok and they hadn’t dismissed the possibility of suicide. It gave those self-promoting senior policemen something to talk about to the press. Made them sound more important. Rather than admit “We haven’t got the foggiest idea,” the ranking officer of the day would go down the list of bloody obvious possibilities even if he hadn’t visited the site of the crime. As long as you spelled his name correctly he’d talk to you the whole day. Perhaps you can see I have a certain dark feeling toward our gentlemen in khaki.
But the good news is, I was back. All right, I didn’t get a by-line, the Thai dailies don’t encourage reporter egoism, but word would get out that I’d risen from the dead. I might be living in the buttock end of the world but I could still sniff out a story. After nine months of highway traffic pile-up reports and coconut yield statistics, I’d been thrilled when I heard they’d discovered the bodies. Please let them be murder victims, I prayed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a bloodthirsty person. I just needed reassuring that man hadn’t stopped displaying inhumanity to man. I’d begun to doubt it.
I’d been sitting in one of our grass-roofed huts overlooking the bay, gutting mackerel when I heard the news of old Mel’s VW. Unless we get a few sea bass or a tasty anchovy, mackerel gutting’s usually the highlight of the week in our cul-de-sac of a village. Kow, the squid-boat captain, stopped by on his Honda Dream with its fishball-dispensing sidecar. He’s our local Paul Revere. You don’t need a cell phone or Internet connection if you have someone like Captain Kow in the vicinity. I’ve no idea how he hears it all but I’d wager he’s a good hour ahead of the BBC on most news.
“You hear?” he yelled. Of course I hadn’t heard. I never hear anything. “They found a car with dead bodies in it under Old Mel’s back lot.”
He smiled. He’s got a sort of mail slot where his front teeth ought to be. It makes you want to doubt him but he’s invariably right. His southern accent’s so thick I needed a few seconds to decipher his words.
“Who’s Old Mel?” I asked.
“Got twenty hectares out off the Bang Ka road just before Bang Ga.”
I was elated. This was the first burst of excitement I’d felt all year. I had to get over there. My little brother, Arnon, playfully known as Arny, was out somewhere with the truck and Granddad Jah had the motorcycle. I didn’t have any choice but to use Mair’s old auntie bicycle with the metal basket on the front. I shouted to my mother that I was taking it and heard a faint “Make sure you put petrol in it” from deep inside our shop. Right, Mair.
Apart from the bridge over the Lang Suan river the roads are mostly flat around here, all palm and coconut plantations. Pleasant enough if you like green—I don’t. There are limestone cliffs sticking up here and there, making the place look untidy, but not much in the way of hills. Old Mel’s place was a good ten kilometers away and exercise wasn’t one of my strong points. But you know how it is when you get the scent of blood in your nostrils. My little legs pumped away at the pedals and the adrenaline coursed through my veins and, in a sudden bubbly rush of clarity, my mind became filled with all my glory moments. The marvelous crimes I’d reported; the numerous bodies I’d stepped over—being careful not to tread in the blood—the castrated cuckolds, the jimmied ATMs, the druggies, the lesbian high-rise suicides, the motorcycle hit squads, the truck smugglers, the mysterious backpacker mutilations, the high-speed school-bus-race crashes, philandering fake fortune tellers, gangsters I’d exposed (albeit anonymously), stabbings, stranglings, garrotings … Oh, I could go on.
What a career I had ahead of me. My name, Jimm Juree, was synonymous with accurate crime reporting all over Thailand. Not even the simple dim fare left after the medusa had feasted on me could detract from my obvious affinity for my job. I was respected. I was one seat away from the senior crime reporter’s leather chair. Saeng Thip rum had left little of the incumbent and everyone knew his health was shot and his days were numbered. They gave him six months. Then I’d be in. I’d all but been given the nod. The first female senior crime reporter in Chiang Mai Mail history. Only the second in the entire country. Me. Flying high.
And then, one hot early evening in August last year, my rice-paper balloon burst into flames and crashed to the ground. I obviously didn’t pay enough tea money to the right people in a previous life. Our mother, Mair, despite her red-handed involvement in the affair, would continue to say it was fate. Karma, she called it, but I don’t think it was any coincidence that she’d rediscovered Buddhism at roughly the same time the dementia started to kick in.
That evening, almost exactly a year ago, will be forever burned into the DVD of my soul. It plays over and over even when I’m not switched on. I see the scene. Hear the soundtrack. I know exactly which frame’s going to freeze with the look of horror plastered over my face.
I’d had a great day, which made it all the worse. I mean, a great day. An old-timer in Maerim had been found shot through the temple with a pen gun. The police had arrested the teenager next door who had a history of trouble and a tattoo of a kitten impaled on a lance on his shoulder. I’d had dealings with him before. He had the devil in him, I knew, but I doubted he had the stomach for a killing. That takes an altogether different type of villain.
His grandparents had raised him, albeit badly, for the past thirteen years, ever since his bar-girl mother had dumped him and vanished without a trace. They obviously hadn’t been able to do the job any better with him than they had with their daughter. I went to interview the grandparents. The police case file was officially closed and the boy was at the start of a long murky tunnel that would eventually spew him out in an adult prison for murder. He’d threatened the old-timer in front of witnesses and the police had found the murder weapon under his bedroll. They weren’t looking any further. Dirt-poor family. No money for a lawyer. A nice neat victory for this month’s statistics chart. Granny was distraught—unavailable for comment. But there was something edgy about Granddad. He’d been the old-timer’s drinking buddy. They’d been friends since primary school. I could have marked his grunted responses and lack of eye contact down to angina or the fact he was missing his best friend, but I felt there was something else. He was a man who wanted to talk.
I went to the corner drink stand and returned with a half bottle of Mekhong whiskey. I suggested a toast to the deceased—wish him well on his way through nirvana to the next incarnation. Let’s hope he does better there. Granddad poured the drinks without saying a word. There was a slight shake to his hand as he passed me my glass. He raised his drink to his lips but it paused there. He snorted the fumes and looked down into the glassy brown liquor as if he could see his conscience.
“We were drunk that night,” he said, more to the whiskey than to me. I put down my own glass to listen. “We often got drunk but that night was more foolish than most. He’d just come back from Fang with half a dozen bottles of hooch and that sodding amulet. He’d bought it from some Akha hill tribesman, he said. It was magic, he said. He swore to me before he’d paid for it he’d seen the Akha stare down a rifle and not even flinch when his missus fired it at him. Bullet just bounced off him … he said.”
That was the start of the confession and neither of us touched the Mekhong whiskey the whole time. But I considered it eighty-two baht well spent. It turned out the old-timer had been convinced the amulet made him bulletproof and as the evening wore on and they got drunker and drunker, the neighbor goaded his friend. “Go on! Shoot me. Shoot me if you don’t believe me.”
“At first I ignored him,” Granddad said. “But he wouldn’t shut up about it. I knew the boy had a pen gun. I’d seen it. I fetched it more for a threat than anything else. Just to bluff him. Shut him up. You know? But it got him even more excited when he saw the gun. ‘Go on,’ he said. ‘I know you don’t believe me. Go on you coward, do it.’”
“And you did it,” I said.
The boy was released and the old man was charged with accidental homicide. The Mail let me write it up as a personal account. The medusa didn’t like that. She took out all my adjectives and dumbed the piece down but it was still my story: How I solved a case the police had closed. There’s no way to describe how that feels. It should have been the happiest day of the week. I bought a five-liter cask of Mont Clair red to celebrate and two packets of Tim Tam biscuits. I imagined we’d all sit around the kitchen table getting pickled, laughing at Mair who turned into a completely different person just from getting her lips wet with booze.
We had a small shop right beside the campus of Chiang Mai University. Most nights you could hear the high-pitched squeals of practicing cheerleaders—some of them female—and the late night drunken revelers careening their motorcycles into flower beds. Serious scholars retired to Starbucks for peace and chocolate croissants. Education had changed since I studied there. Our shop didn’t sell much: packet noodles, rice crackers, mosquito coils, shampoo, beer, that type of thing. We were a sort of rustic 7-Eleven. Mair had put in a few washing machines for the students to leave off their laundry and they’d invariably pick up a snack and a drink at the same time. And we were right beside a condominium full of farang, the type of white-meat foreigners who couldn’t imagine a night of cable TV without half a dozen Singha beers. That was our customer base. We wouldn’t make it into Forbes but we did all right. The bungalow we grew up in, the only home we’d ever known, was at the back.
I’d taken a shortcut through the university, always an iffy move because the guards often left early to avoid traffic. It wasn’t yet four fifty but the side gates were shut. The padlocked chain was loosely wrapped. Lean Thai students could squeeze through the gap; overweight large-boned rapists could not. The girls could sleep easy in their dorms. I parked my motorcycle beside the guard post and inserted myself between the gates. A few more pizza dinners and I’d have to start driving the long way round.
I knew something was wrong when I saw my granddad Jah sitting on the curbstones in front of our shop. He was wearing his undervest and shorts and had his bare feet in the gutter. Neither the attire nor the setting were unusual. He liked to sit beside the road. Over the past few years, his reason for living had become the scrutiny of every vehicle that passed in front of our shop: study the number plate, look at the condition of the bodywork and glare threateningly at the driver. It was evening rush hour, his favorite time, but his head was bowed now and he was missing some fascinating evening traffic.
I asked if he was all right but he shrugged and pointed his thumb back over his shoulder. Granddad Jah wasn’t a great communicator and I had no idea what the gesture meant. He might have been telling me about the two customers waiting in the shop with nobody there to serve them. Heaven forbid he’d get up off his haunches and do a bit of work for a change. No. Too many passing cars to observe for that. I called out to Mair but nobody came so I served the customers myself and went through the concrete yard to our kitchen. I walked in on a scene reminiscent of a military court-martial.
At one end of the kitchen table sat my sister, Sissi, who at one time had been my elder brother, Somkiet. Filling up the space at the other end of the table was my current brother, Arny. He was what they referred to as a bodybuilder and this evening his T-shirt was so tightly strained across his muscles it looked as if it had been inked on. He had a wad of tissues scrunched in his right hand and it was clear he’d been crying.
Between these two sat our mother, Mair. She was dressed in a very formal black suit she generally reserved for sad occasions. She’d put on a little make-up, her hair in a Lao bun, and she looked like an elegant, middle-aged funeral director, more beautiful than I’d seen her in many a month. I did notice that the white blouse she wore beneath her jacket was buttoned wrongly. It might have been a fashion statement but I knew better. I couldn’t stand the silence.
“Somebody dead?” I asked.
“Us,” said Sissi, staring pointedly at the joists inside the roof. The temperature had reached 34 degrees centigrade that day but, as usual, she was wearing sunglasses and a thick silk scarf because she insisted her saggy neck skin made her look like a turkey. It did no such thing; her neck was fine. There really was nothing sorrier than an aging transsexual ex-beauty queen. At least I used to think so.
“Does anybody want to tell me what’s happened here?” I pleaded. Evidently not. Nobody spoke. The ceiling lizards were taking up their positions around the as-yet-unlit, fluorescent lamp above our heads and they were ticking with anticipation of a big night ahead. But my family was silent.
“She’s sold us out.”
The voice came from behind me. I hadn’t noticed Granddad Jah follow me in but he now stood in the open doorway with his arms folded. It had been such a long time since I’d heard him speak I’d forgotten what his voice sounded like. The family was complete now but unstuck. I raised my eyebrows at Mair. The most wonderful if sometimes the creepiest, of my mother’s traits was that she never seemed to be fazed by anything. She would greet even the most horrific moments, tragedies and accidents alike, with the same sliver-lipped smile. Her pretty eyes would sparkle and there’d be a barely perceptible shake of the head. I’d often imagined her going down with the Titanic, Leo DiCaprio splashing and spluttering beside her, and Mair’s enigmatic smile sliding slowly beneath the surface of the icy water. She was wearing herTitanic smile there at our kitchen table and I knew it masked something terrible.
“Mair, what have you done?” I asked.
“She’s sold it all,” Sissi blurted out. “The house, the shop, everything.”
It couldn’t be true, of course.
“Mair?” Again I looked at her. She raised one eyebrow fractionally. No denial. It felt as if the floorboards had been pulled out from under me. I plonked down on one of the spare chairs.
“We’re going to have a better life,” Mair said. “I decided it’s time to move.”
“Please note the high level of consultation,” Sissi hissed.
“How could you make a decision like that without talking to us?” I asked. “This is our home. We all grew up here.”
“We should all die here,” added Granddad.
“A change is as good as a holiday,” said Mair. “I’m thinking of you all. You’ll thank me for it.”
“Is it too late to unsell?” I asked Sissi. She was our contract person, our unpaid clerk and accountant. I was sure she’d have checked the paperwork. She pulled a wad of documents from her Louis Vuitton local rip-off handbag and dropped them onto the table.
“The deed is signed, witnessed and incontestable,” she said. A shuddering sigh erupted from the Arny end of the table. Granddad was seething in the doorway. We all knew the land documents should still have been in his name but he’d listened to Granny on her deathbed. Listened to her for the first time in his life.
“Sign them over to the girl,” she’d said. “You could keel over any second, then the bastards at City Hall will suck all the taxes and rates out of it. There’ll be nothing left. Sign it over to the girl.”
So, that’s what he’d done, a final promise to a woman he’d never really honored or obeyed. The one time he’d done what she asked him, and look where it got us all. As the sole owner, his daughter had no legal obligation to involve them in her decision. No legal obligation.
I took some time to think.
“All right,” I said. “Look. Perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing.”
“It isn’t?” Sissi was sizzling like pork in deep fat.
Of course I was lying. I was as upset as any of them but I had to put some temporary repair work into my family.
“No. Look, we all know this house needs a lot of work,” I said with a knowing look on my uncertain face. “The roof leaks even when it isn’t raining and we’ve got a world of termites. We could use the money from the sale of this place to find somewhere better…” Out of the corner of my eye I could see Arny shaking his head. I thought if I ignored him the gesture would go away. “Perhaps a little out of town, a short commute. We could even have a little yard with—”
Sissi let forth with that haughty laugh she’d learned from her TV soap.
“Oh ho. But you haven’t yet heard the best part,” she said. “There’s more to it. The move is already taken care of, little sister.”
“I don’t get it,” I admitted.
“The money I got from selling this old place I’ve invested in a lovely resort hotel in the south.” Mair beamed with pride. “We’ll all have such a lovely time. It really is a dream come true.”
It was the type of dream you have after eating spicy hor mook and sticky rice directly before you go to bed. I could feel the knot. The south? They were blowing each other up in the south. Everyone was fleeing north and we were supposed to go south?
“How far south?” I asked.
“Quite far,” she said.
Copyright © 2011 by Colin Cotterill
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a laugh-out-loud mystery novel! I liked it so much I've started to read the author's other books starting with "The Coroner's Lunch". It's sad when a reviwer hasn't even grasped what is going on in a book and trashes it. No, KenCady, the lead character is not a lesbian - she used this as an excuse to deflect romatic envolvement with a local man. The result is hilarious (I won't say anything more or else I'll spoil it for you guys).
This book had one of the funniest crime scene discoveries I've read in a long time. The book in infused with subtle humor throughput, it is more a character based mystery but it got kind of confusing with all the characters and places with unfamiliar names.
Author of the wonderfully eccentric Dr. Siri Paiboun of 1970s Laos, Cotterill has staked out new territory in the time and country in which he lives--contemporary Thailand. The protagonist is Jimm Juree, a 34 year old female crime reporter who has been uprooted from her home in northern Thailand by her crazy mother Mair who has bought a run-down wreck of a resort in the south. Trailing along are her brother Arny and her Graddad Ja; refusing to leave their original home is Sissi, Jimm¿s transgendered sister, a recluse who is a computer whiz and who makes a living more or less illegally via the Internet.With a family like that, how can you go right? Sleepy though the south may be to Jimm¿s great distress, suddenly one day her life brightens with the discovery of a buried 40 year old VW camper ban with two skeletons inside, driver and passenger. Thrilled to have a chance to report death and destruction again, Jimm throws herself wholeheartedly into discovering the identities of the corpses. But she is confronted with a plethora of corpses when two more show up.It¿s a typical Cotterill plot and the cast of characters does its best to outdo Laos in the 70s. Gays and lesbians are rather prominently featured; Jimm befriends the gay Lieutenant Chompu and lesbians show up in various ways. Jimm herself is an edgy sort, and has the kind of dialogue one would expect of a direct lineal descendent of Dr. Siri (which she is only in the literary sense).This is a fun book, and does for modern Thailand what the Dr. Siri series does for the Laos of the 70s--give a nice look into everyday Thai life. The plot is good if nothing outstanding. There are some really predictable turns in the story, and the love interest is kind of bleh.But the great redeeming feature of the book, alone almost worth the price of purchase are the epigrams at the beginning of every chapter. They are taken from the literary and philosophical works of the 43rd President of the United States and are awe-inspiring to those of us who can read and write (and beware--we are everywhere, showing up even in the best of families). How can one not be moved by such profound philosophical insight such as:¿If you don¿t stand for anything, you don¿t stand for anything! If you don¿t stand for something, you don¿t stand for anything!¿or the grand historical grasp displayed in:¿For a century and a half now, American and Japan have formed one of the great and enduring alliances of modern times¿, delivered on February 18, 2002 in Tokyo, underscoring to the world the depth of the then-President of the United States.Most likely the first in a series. Recommended.
It is really hard for me to give a rating to KATWOAH; it has a lot of strong pluses, and if my opinion some significant minuses. I liked the rural Thai setting, and especially the characters, many of whom were totally charming. There are many people you want to hear from again and see what unfolds next in their lives, their relationships. I liked the humor, many clever and funny comebacks. The description of the finances of a Thai cyber cafe really resonated with me because I have asked myself the same questions after paying the equivalent of about 20 cents American for an hour online in India. There were three crimes being investigated concurrently involving two skeletons, a Buddhist Abbot, and a poisoned dog. The why and who were pretty much identified for two of them by book's end, but one was left to the speculation of our 32 year old female protagonist reporter, Juree Jimm (or was it Jimm Juree?) This is my first Cotterill, and I'll probably read the next JJ book, but I'm not sure. Each chapter was prefaced with a flub by President George W. Bush, and if there were ties with the contents of the chapter, they eluded me. The first two or three were amusing, but then they became grating. I have never been a GWB fan but I don't like seeing a former President picked on and ridiculed to that extent. And frankly some of his quotes were very apropos for the audience being addressed. CC had a few of his own incomprehensible lines (at least they were to me), e.g., "The last of our food order arrived passing our hopes on the way which were heading at speed out of the window." There were at least half a dozen Bushisms which seemed to make more sense than that.
After her mother sells the family home and purchases a run-down resort in Southern Thailand, Jimm Juree gives up her adrenaline-filled career to move with her family to the small coastal village of Maprao. Jimm¿s job changes from urban crime reporting to cooking and cleaning for her eccentric family and nearly, nonexistent resort guests. When Jimm hears that a local farmer has discovered a VW bus with two skeletons buried in his field, she is overjoyed with the possibility of a story to sell the press. A Buddhist monk is also found murdered at the local monastery, giving Jimm a second opportunity. With help from a local police officer and her unexpectedly resourceful family, Jimm sets to work uncovering the facts behind the crimes. Killed at the Whim of a Hat is the humorous first book in a new series by Colin Cotterill. The quirky characters, clever plotting and exotic setting will appeal to mystery readers looking for something a little different. Cotterill is also the author of the Dr. Siri Paiboun series set in 1970s Laos.
Think of all the positive ways to describe a great murder mystery and combine them with all the positive ways to describe a comedy: you get "gruesome" and "suspenseful" plus "hilarious", "witty", and "uproariously funny". This book combines all the best aspects of two well-loved genres and is by far the best story I've read in a very long time. Our protagonist, Jimm Juree, who by the end of the book seems more like a dear friend than someone introduced a mere 379 pages ago, has a unique charm and a fantastic sense of humor. She describes everything with the cynicism of one who has been ripped out of her home and dumped in the middle of nowhere. Her sense of humor gets a great workout when paired in witty banter with the humor of local police Lieutenant Chompu. With the help of Jimm's family, they solve the mystery of a murdered Abbot. Her family seems, at first glance, to be comprised of disillusioned but nonetheless contented individuals who by the end of the novel have so much personality that it's hard not to want to be a member of the family or at least a part of their eccentric community. The community plays a relatively small role, mainly the part of the drowsy setting from which unexpected murders emerge; but despite the constant reminders of its pitfalls and shortcomings, Maprao (and nearby Pak Nam and Lang Suan) seems like just another small town anywhere with a richly diverse group of close-knit neighbors, though perhaps with more humorous inhabitants than most normal towns. There are decidedly political and religious aspects of this book, which neither enhance nor detract from it's perfection but rather discreetly and quickly explain the background of Thai culture and society. I went into this book with no knowledge of Thailand and, while this book was far from a tour guide, I feel like I've been there. The fictional world of Jimm Juree created by Colin Cotterill in Killed at the Whim of a Hat was hard to leave, making this an impossible-to-put-down read that I would recommend to anyone and everyone.
Murder mystery set in current day Thailand. Jimm Juree, female crime reporter, is a likeable character with a great detective mind who solves 2 murder mysteries in Maprao, her new home by the sea. Great secondary characters including local police lieutenant Chompu, her grandfather Jah, a retired police officer, her computer genius transgender sister and on the verge of dementia mother. Interesting setting as I knew nothing about Thailand when I started the book. Great summer read. LOVED the George W. Bush quotes that started each chapter and gave the book its name.
Great mystery and I can't wait to see more of the series and will even check out some of the author's other titles. Good plotting with several red herrings that keep you guessing. I enjoyed the dialouge and the characters and the voice of the protagonist, Jimm Juree, was dry and amusing. The family and village life background kept the book moving at a good pace and introduced some great situations and people.The one thing I did notice about the book was even though the book was set in Thailand and the characters are Thai, I didn't get a real foreign feeling from the book. Not that it wasn't good, it was just that as I was going through book I was able to take the people and situations and transplant them into a small town in the midwest and everything still worked. I don't want it to seem like a complaint, because it's not, I think it just adds to the accessibility.
Once again, I have been properly introduced to another new-to-me writer. This book was in the advance readers bin at the store and I grabbed it. I showed the book to someone I work with and she came close to snatching it out of my hand. She waxed poetic on Colin Cotterill. She said I would love his dry wit. And she was right. I liked it. The plot is quite layered. There are multiple mysteries to solve. Our narrator and her family are eccentric and quirky, a Thai version of the folks in the film "You Can't Take It With You." What am I talking about? The entire cast of characters are all off-beat and lovable. I found the writing wonderfully rich. The tiny bits of imagery that Cotterill casually tosses into his sentences are beguiling. ('swimming pool sky' is just one example) The humor flows unabated. It is furiously snarky and lightning quick. But I found it distracting at times and felt that the insistence on a minimum of at least one joke every thirty words was like quicksand to the plot. I admit that I laughed out loud at some of it. But I found that I could only take it in very small doses. I could say that this book needed to be savored and sipped, not gulped down. Cotterill deftly juggles plot and multiple sub-plots, bringing everything to a satisfying set of conclusions, all while treating the reader to some of the more memorable quotes of George W. Bush at the beginning of each chapter. (The inclusion of Dubya was mystery in itself... and the answer revealed in layers like everything else) This is not a book I would have chosen on my own, were I browsing the "New in Mystery" section. But I do believe that I will have to take a look at some of Cotterill's other books while I wait for the next Jimm Juree to hit the shelves.
Jimm Juree is 32 years old and has recently moved from a modern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand to a beach side town barely out of the stone age in an area known as Maprao. She was a crime reporter for a major newspaper when her mother decided to sell the family home and business and buy a small, run down beach resort in southern Thailand. Jimm now lives there with her mother, grandfather, and younger brother and is not happy to be removed from civilization. But, wait, a farmer digging a well unearths a VW bus with two skeletons calmly sitting inside like they were waiting for a light to change. Here is her chance to get back into the modern world. Being the only journalist for a hundred miles can have its perks. Following leads and meeting local policemen eventually gives her the realization it may not be so bad to live there. "Something had changed inside me. I began to understand why everyone within a twenty-kilometer radius was an idiot. It was for the same reason that you could live in a condominium room for years and not know that your next door neighbor was stacking body parts in his refrigerator. Ignorance breeds ignorance. If you want the world to be as narrow as your mind, you can make it so. I'd assumed I was superior to everyone in Maprao so I hadn't seen a need to confirm my status by actually talking to people. The odd thing was, once you got to know them you realized there was more common sense around you than in a whole city full of educated but suffocating people. Certainly more than in a barrel-load of monkey politicians. Living their lives wasn't desperation for the Mapraoans, it was a sensible choice for a very proud people."The cast of characters is wonderful. Her older brother (now sister) is an aging transsexual who remained shuttered and housebound in the city and is making a career out of computer hacking (very handy talent for her sister). Her younger brother has always been painfully shy and is unable to overcome the shyness no matter how much body building he does. Now away from modern gyms, he has to resort to rolling logs on the beach for his workout. Jimm's grandfather had a long career as a parking police but has an amazingly keen investigative mind and her mother seems to be sliding into senility with her antics.The juxtaposition of a modern, educated, intelligent woman who finds herself stranded with only a cell phone to connect her to her previous life and the rustic, remote, and stunningly beautiful area on the Gulf of Siam is a delightful premise for a new detective series. Each chapter is headed by a Bushism, one of President G.W. Bush's legendary misspeaks, because Jimm took a course in oratory for her master's degree and had G.W. for her subject. Luckily for us, there are enough of these to head the chapters of many more future episodes to entertain us.
This is an interesting little cozy set in Thailand. The quirky family reminds me a lot of the Meg Langslow Mysteries by Donna Andrews. There are two mysteries in this story - who killed the abbot and how did the couple in the VW Kombi die. Jimm Juree, a Thai crime reporter who has moved with her family to a small village in southern Thailand, helps the local law enforcement solve these mysteries.I enjoyed this story and hope there will be more about these characters.
Killed at the Whim of a Hat is a whimsical tale of mystery, with a large dollop of unconventional family for support for Jimm and the entertainment of the reader. Moved to a backwater town at the whim of her mother, Jimm, crime reporter, manages to become involved in solving two crimes introducing a fanciful cast of characters along the way.Although this is definitely a setup for a continuing series, the story is good.enough to make me want to read more.Comparisons to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency are not warranted, except only to compare the quality of the writing.
Old Mel has hired a young man to dig a hole for a new well. All of a sudden, the boy disappears as the ground gives out from under him. He finds himself standing on a VW bus from the 1970¿s. Inside the bus, are two skeletons, one with hands placed appropriately on the steering wheel.Jimm Juree, news reporter par excellence, reveals to the reader that her name is synonymous with accurate crime reporting all over Thailand. It is only a matter of time before her boss retires and she moves into his chair as senior crime reporter. She loves her job and the world is her oyster, that is, until her mother announces that she has sold their home and business to a group wanting to build a condominium. In turn, Mair has purchased a ¿lovely¿ sea side resort in the south of Thailand. The family is moving.Jimm is an optimist; she¿ll find stories big city newspapers will be eager to buy. Her brother, Arny, is a competitive body builder. He is close to despair at being forced to leave the well-equipped gyms in the city but he can improvise. Granddad Jah is a man of few words who spends his days keeping track of passing cars. He will continue to track cars in a different place. ¿At one end of the table sat my sister, Sissi, who at one time had been my older brother, Somkiet.¿ Sissi has a good internet business so she is staying in place; the new location doesn¿t have the modern facilities necessary to access the world wide web. But Sissi will only be a phone call away and Jimm figures that her sister¿s internet skills will be invaluable as she pursues breaking news or hard hitting investigative reports. The family is still the family.For ten months, Jimm has been the cook at the resort while her mother worked in the resort shop that is stocked with items from the time the resort first opened. Arny manages the hotel and Granddad watches cars drive by. When she first arrived, Jimm had made everyone aware of her career in the newspaper business. No one sent any stories her way until Captain Kow of the local police department comes riding on his Honda to tell her of the bodies in the VW.With one big story under her belt, Jimm makes herself available to the local police and, if hanging around can get her the inside track on a story, that is only par for the course in the news business. It is in hanging around that Jimm learns of a truly big story, one that is so sensitive that there is a news blackout. There has been a murder at a local monastery.Jimm teams up with Lieutenant Chompu when it becomes apparent that someone with a great deal of influence is moving behind the scenes. The murdered abbot is a visitor, a member of the Buddhist version of an Internal Affairs department. Someone has accused Abbot Kem of being in an inappropriate relationship with the temple nun. The nun becomes the obvious suspect, the only suspect, but Jimm refuses to accept that notion. She and Chompu agree to share information although Jimm thinks it likely that the lieutenant plans that most of the sharing will be on Jimm¿s part.I have been a fan of Colin Cotterill¿s since the first book in the Siri Paiboun series. This first book in a new series combines a good story, a satisfying mystery, and thoroughly enjoyable characters. The book is filled with wonderful lines that sort of sneak up on the reader:When speaking of the abbot: ¿I needed to look into his eyes and see what his slant on all this was.¿Jimm on her language skills: ¿I wanted to go to an English-speaking country but they were all full so they sent me to Australia.¿The chapter titles are a delightful walk through the speeches of George W. Bush. And Jimm makes this observation: ¿If nothing else, my analysis of George W¿s oratory style had taught me that a sincere countenance and a confident stance were sufficient to distract your audience from the fact that you were talking rubbish.¿KILLED AT THE WHIM OF A HAT is worth reading.
Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin CotterillMy first comment is to say that it seems to me that those reviewers who are comparing this to Alexander McCall Smith¿s The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series have read neither series and do a disservice to both. The series do have a few things in common. They both take place in foreign countries; they both feature likeable, female crime solvers and they are both immensely readable. There the similarities end. Mma Ramotswe is traditional ¿ both in build and in philosophy. Jimm Juree is thoroughly modern ¿ small, with a sarcastic sense of humor.This second series character of Cotterill's, crime reporter Jimm Juree, is as enjoyable as his first, the 70 yr old Thai State Coroner, Dr. Siri Paiboun. In one of her university courses Juree took a class called Public Oration and Oral Improvisation during which she had to study the oratory skills of President G. W. Bush. In one instance he ¿fell off the edge of the teleprompter¿ and was caught between ¿on a whim¿ and ¿at the drop of a hat¿. He ended up with the terrorists killing each other ¿at the whim of a hat¿. Juree is reminded of this when she suddenly realizes that an orange hat plays an important part in the crime she is investigating. As she tries to get herself out of a sticky spot of bother with two police detectives sent down from the capital she thinks her course hadn¿t been entirely in vain¿ ¿If nothing else, my analysis of George W.¿s oratory style had taught me that a sincere countenance and a confident stance were sufficient to distract your audience from the fact that you were talking rubbish.¿ And so, she wings her way out of difficulty.Each chapter begins with a quote from Bush and you come to realize that they don¿t seem so outlandish in a society where reality has little to do with official positions. Jimm comments that the Thai police are always willing to call a death a suicide ¿ in order to cover all bases. Two bodies buried in a VW van, someone shot four times in the chest over a twenty minute period, a head in a plastic bag suspended on a rope from a bridge ¿ all definitely suicide. (And it helps keep the crime rate down!)The members of Jimm¿s family are there, certainly a bit on the eccentric side, but by the end of the book you love them all as well as Police Lieutenant Chompu with whom she solves the case(s).I was nervous when I began reading Killed at the Whim of a Hat, because I really loved the series with Dr. Siri and Cotterill ranked up there as one of my favorite writers. I didn¿t want to be disappointed! By the time I finished the book I was extremely happy and I¿m looking forward to more books about Jimm. BUT I don¿t want the series with Dr. Siri to come to an end, so I hope for more of both.
First Line: Old Mel hired one of Da's nephews-- the slow-witted one with the dent in his forehead-- to sink a well in his back acre.Young Jimm Juree has the life she wants as a crime reporter for the Chiang Mai Daily Mail, but when her mother suddenly sells the family business, familial obligation means that Jimm follows her mother, grandfather and brother to rural southern Thailand to run a decrepit resort on the coast. How in the world is she ever going to become the first female senior crime reporter in the Chiang Mai Daily Mail's history when she lives all the way out in the sticks?Running the resort takes up a good portion of her day. Let's face it: she's not getting much help from her family. Her mother, who's showing signs of dementia, spends most of her time either restacking cans in the small giftshop or taking in stray dogs. Her grandfather, a retired traffic cop, scarcely says a word and disappears for long periods of time. Jimm's brother's life revolves around body-building and trying to find a decent gym out in the back of beyond. Only Sissi, Jimm's transgendered, former beauty pageant queen, computer hacker, former older brother had the good sense to stay in the city.It's only when a van containing the skeletal remains of two hippies is unearthed in a local farmer's field that Jimm knows this is her chance to get back to the city and the life she wants. Then when an abbot at a nearby Buddhist temple is murdered, Jimm knows she's got to solve both crimes.I love Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri mystery series, which is set in 1970s Laos and features a spry and wily septuagenarian national coroner and a marvelous cast of secondary characters. When I learned that this book was the start of a contemporary series set in Thailand, I thought that Christmas had come early. I still do.I've read other books set in Thailand. John Burdett's series features a Thai policeman with rather traditional cultural beliefs and values. Timothy Hallinan's Poke Rafferty series has an Anglo writer who's fallen in love with the Thai culture and wants to become a part of it. In Cotterill's book, we get to see Thailand from yet another perspective: that of a young, thoroughly Westernized Thai woman. Each series gives readers a different view of a fascinating country.Both the crimes in Killed at the Whim of a Hat are puzzlers. Cotterill undoubtedly planted clues throughout the book, but I didn't pick many of them up. Jimm Juree may be an amateur sleuth, but this is not what's usually termed a "cozy" mystery. In particular, the killer of the Buddhist abbot is very depraved and vicious.But this book is not just about solving mysteries. It's about a young woman coming to grips with what she really wants in life. It's about a young woman who is finally in a situation that makes her really get to know the members of her family. As a mystery, as a glimpse into life in rural Thailand, as a study of human behavior, this is an enjoyable, strong work of fiction-- even though it's not always for the faint-hearted.It's also not always for those who are easily offended. The book title and chapter headings are all quotes from our former President, George W. Bush. If you're a fan of our 43rd President's eloquence, or if you find it offensive when people in other countries poke some gentle fun at the United States, you may want to pass on this book. All the quotes do tie into the plot, the characters, and the motivations, however.Of course the immediate comparison for this book is going to be Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series set in Botswana. The only things they really have in common are a light tone, excellent casts of characters, and exotic locations. There is more depth and a more fully developed mystery in Cotterill's book.I am one very happy reader now that I have both Dr. Siri and Jimm Juree to look forward to.
The Book Report: Jimm Juree, female crime reporter/editrix in waiting, leaves heavily urban and crime-ridden Chiang Mai, Thailand (ideal for her chosen trade, eh?), when her scatty, pre-dementia-sufferer mother (called "Mair" which means Mama throughout the book) decides to sell the family home and family shop and buy a ghastly little hole-in-the-wall "resort" in Thailand's Deep South...with all the freight that phrase implies in English fully intact here. With Mair and Jimm go Arny, the youngest of the family, a cliff of muscle and a mass of insecurities, as well as Granddad Jah, father of Mair and forty-year veteran of the Thai police whose inability to take bribes stalled his career at the level of Corporal.Gettin' the set-up here? Mass of misfits go to be, collectively, fish out of water on the hot, humid Gulf of Siam coast. And what happens? As soon as the family gets there, Jimm gets involved in a weird discovery: Two skeletons in an ancient VW Kombi discovered at the bottom of a well-pit. What gives? We follow Jimm as she makes friends (sort of) with the local constabulary in pursuit of information on the who, what, when, how, and why of this utterly strange killing...murder...accidental death...suicide...? Who knows? But the editor Jimm so wanted to replace as soon as he dies buys the story.Yay, right? Well...then comes a grisly horrible scary murder of an abbot sent from Buddhist HQ to investigate the possible salacious goins-on of the local abbot and his resident nun. Turns out they knew each other well in former lives...and someone is sure they're doin' the nasty even now, many many years later. When the HQ abbot turns up hideously slain, there is a curious radio silence...no news leaks...but Jimm, being steps away from the crime scene, hears all and sees much. She, with help from flaming queen Lieutenant Chompu, Granddad Jah, and a selection of interviewees at varying levels of helpfulness and relevance, puts all the pieces together. The guilty are, well, guilty, and known to be so; the ending is a bit of a let-down on some points. But end it does, and no one can not know justice is meant to be served. My Review: This book and I have A History. The first copy I got was *shudder* bug-infested *shudder*, and was summarily heaved into the trash for the crime. Then a dear and warm-hearted fellow reader took pity on me and sent me her copy of the ARC. Now how kind is that? And when does the book arrive? Just as I'm beginning a nasty nasty bout of flu. So was I willing to cut the beginning of the book, which contains some unpleasant slights to the transgendered community, any slack? Why no! I was not! And then we are treated to some snark, a little sarcasm, and heaps of condescenscion. Oh, my, were we on the way to a flame-fest! I had my own vituperative darts and righteous flaming arrows all lined up, I did. I was even ready to give up and just not review it, since I hate to be nasty to authors who have spent blood, sweat, and tears on creating something to amuse thee and me. Seems churlish somehow.Then came p349. I won't tell you what happens there. Suffice to know that the whole reason I was reading the book, ill temper and all, snapped into focus for me. I was left a little hollow by that stuffing-knocking-out. I was so very glad I'd kept going. It made a lot of things that ticked me off fall into perspective. It could for you, too...but, in the end, it's the characters that will make or break this book for readers, not necessarily the mystery. In this way, the book merits comparison to Mma Ramotswe's adventures retailed by Alexander McCall Smith. The setting of rural Thailand is certainly fresh and new to my jaded American eyes!So. To recommend or not to recommend? I choose recommend, with one strong caveat: Open up *first* or the experience of change might slip past you. I'd hate to know that was the case.
I received this book as part of the Early Reviewers program. I was not sure I was going to enjoy it when I started it. It took me some time to get into it, and I found the author's style off-putting. I think it serves up too many stereotypes of Southeast Asians. That being said, once I got into the story I enjoyed the plot, if not the style. The protagonist is a female journalist with a quirky family who moves from Chiang Mai to a small sleepy village in southern Thailand. The book opens with the discovery of a buried VW bus in the back of a local farmer's coconut grove and moves onto the murder of a Buddhist priest. Our hero has to show the corrupt and bumbling Thai police all the errors they make to solve the "crimes".The best thing I can say about this book is that the twist was unexpected until it was almost upon me. Again, because of what I perceived as a condescension toward the Thai people, I am not use I would purchase one of the author's books. That is a personal quibble, and might not be objectionable or even real in other people's opinions.
Jimm Juree #1: “Killed At The Whim of A Hat” by Colin Cotterill. Jimm Juree is an out of work reporter who has just moved with her family to the village of Maprao, on the coast of southern Thailand. There is a lot happening in this 374-page murder mystery, including skeletons discovered in a VW van buried on a farmer’s property, plus the murder of an abbot at the temple. Jimm’s mother’s dog has been poisoned, and renters have stolen everything out the room they were staying in. Wanting her name back in press, Jimm investigates the mysteries, while trying to stop her mother, Mair, from killing the person that killed her dog. In the first half of the book we not only learn about the two big mysteries, but we get to meet Jimm’s family and the town folks, as well as the local police. Although we don’t see a lot of action, this is more literary than noir, the writing is entertaining, and the characters are fun. Each chapter begins with a quote from President George W. Bush, taken from one of his speeches. Jimm’s dissertation at university was to select a famous speaker, and she was stuck with America’s ex-president (I loved the quotes). The murder of the abbot will take many turns, before the surprising case comes to a close. However, the mystery of the submerged VW van with two skeletons doesn’t truly end till the final pages and it, too, has a few surprises. A fun story, and highly recommended.
Marketing works! I saw this book on a shelf next to the latest Number One Ladies Detective Agency novel. The cover has the same style of border and a central image reminiscent of earlier books in the series. The label on the shelf said “If you like… then you will enjoy…” So my husband bought the book for me for Mothers’ Day. Colin Cotterill is not Alexander McCall Smith, and Killed at the Whim of a Hat has a very different feel to the Number One Ladies Detective Agency Novels. It’s much sharper and more harshly critical of the society where it’s set. The protagonist, Jimm Juree, is much more antagonistic. The writing has a harder edge and more biting tone. And the storyline makes you read faster—though the novel’s just as long and there are really only two mysteries to be solved. Vivid words and descriptions sweat as the bike-pedals turn in the heat of a less gentle land. But things change. Both author and character soften their tone as the story progresses. Jimm Juree learns to value her family for themselves rather than just for duty. She warms to the out-of-the-way locale as the reader warms to her determined rebellion. And the end result is the beginning of what looks like a pleasing, and pleasingly different, mystery series. Edgy characters include an oddly effeminate cop, a sister who used to be a brother, a sensitive giant, and, of course, a suitable handful of villains out to make money from everyone. This is Thailand, with all its big-city corruption and small-town graft, with history and future… and with headline quotes from George W Bush? But, of course, it’s Bush who first said “at the whim of a hat,” and every quote is perfectly suited to the chapter it introduces—even to the tale when questions are asked and Jimm learns to use that “sincere countenance and confident stance” to best effect. I’m not entirely sure what I expected in this book, and the beginning felt slow, or overly angry. But I’m hooked by the end and hoping my husband might be tempted to buy me more. Disclosure: I got this book as a gift for Mothers’ Day.
Life is too short for such a boring book. I looked forward with so much anticipation to reading this and it is just blah. Make that a whiny blah!
The Book Report: Jimm Juree, female crime reporter/editrix in waiting, leaves heavily urban and crime-ridden Chiang Mai, Thailand (ideal for her chosen trade, eh?), when her scatty, pre-dementia-sufferer mother (called "Mair" which means Mama throughout the book) decides to sell the family home and family shop and buy a ghastly little hole-in-the-wall "resort" in Thailand's Deep South...with all the freight that phrase implies in English fully intact here. With Mair and Jimm go Arny, the youngest of the family, a cliff of muscle and a mass of insecurities, as well as Granddad Jah, father of Mair and forty-year veteran of the Thai police whose inability to take bribes stalled his career at the level of Corporal. Gettin' the set-up here? Mass of misfits go to be, collectively, fish out of water on the hot, humid Gulf of Siam coast. And what happens? As soon as the family gets there, Jimm gets involved in a weird discovery: Two skeletons in an ancient VW Kombi discovered at the bottom of a well-pit. What gives? We follow Jimm as she makes friends (sort of) with the local constabulary in pursuit of information on the who, what, when, how, and why of this utterly strange killing...murder...accidental death...suicide...? Who knows? But the editor Jimm so wanted to replace as soon as he dies buys the story. Yay, right? Well...then comes a grisly horrible scary murder of an abbot sent from Buddhist HQ to investigate the possible salacious goins-on of the local abbot and his resident nun. Turns out they knew each other well in former lives...and someone is sure they're doin' the nasty even now, many many years later. When the HQ abbot turns up hideously slain, there is a curious radio silence...no news leaks...but Jimm, being steps away from the crime scene, hears all and sees much. She, with help from flaming queen Lieutenant Chompu, Granddad Jah, and a selection of interviewees at varying levels of helpfulness and relevance, puts all the pieces together. The guilty are, well, guilty, and known to be so; the ending is a bit of a let-down on some points. But end it does, and no one can not know justice is meant to be served. My Review: This book and I have A History. The first copy I got was *shudder* bug-infested *shudder*, and was summarily heaved into the trash for the crime. So was I willing to cut the beginning of the book, which contains some unpleasant slights to the transgendered community, any slack? Why no! I was not! I was even ready to give up and just not review it, since I hate to be nasty to authors who have spent blood, sweat, and tears on creating something to amuse thee and me. Seems churlish somehow. Then came p349. I won't tell you what happens there. Suffice to know that the whole reason I was reading the book, ill temper and all, snapped into focus for me. I was left a little hollow by that stuffing-knocking-out. I was so very glad I'd kept going. It made a lot of things that ticked me off fall into perspective. It could for you, too...but, in the end, it's the characters that will make or break this book for readers.